Dallas-based designer Michelle Nussbaumer is a regular globetrotter, bringing her sense for wanderlust and taste for adventure to her richly eclectic and wonderfully maximalist interiors.
What is your favorite decorative object at home?
The Sir Anthony Redmile bust of Neptune in my entrance.
Is design an art or a science?
It is born from the passion for beauty, and the proliferation and creation of that type of beauty, for me. I’m not sure if that is more of an art form or a science, but it is simply a necessity in my life.
When do you consider a completed project a success?
For clients, when I see lives being lived. For myself, never!
Share your biggest design secret.
Then it wouldn’t be a secret, but I love the hunt. The best pieces I’ve found have always been happy accidents from the Paris Flea markets, auctions, English countryside tag sales, to the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. Those are the objects that make all the difference to a job. The things that add life and personality!
What is the most common design mistake you see?
People not believing in their own personal vision but instead following trends.
How do you balance style, comfort, and functionality?
Do you find that it’s easiest to use the vintage piece as a jumping-off point for the room or vintage shop to fill specific holes in the space?
I find it easiest to use a vintage shop to fill specific holes in the space. Because like I always say, “more is more!”, and I have always been a pure maximalist.
You incorporate a lot of vintage case pieces (dressers, credenzas) in your designs. Are there reasons why you look to these kinds of pieces for a vintage infusion?
I always use antiques in my projects. I feel like they bring warmth and authenticity to a space. In a world where everything is available, I find that antiques or vintage pieces bring a more personal and connected feeling.
How does someone who isn’t experienced at vintage buying educate their eye and develop their aesthetic/confidence?
I always tell people to buy what they love. I think that the home should reflect the client or person living there. When you stick to things you love and respond to, they usually go together quite well. One challenge that I see people having trouble with, however, is scale. That’s why it’s great to have a designer.
Can you share some examples of favorite vintage scores?
There are so many, I don’t know where to start. I started in this business as a set designer/antique dealer. I bought and sold so many pieces. The things that stick out in my memory are the things I did not buy. Those regrets stand out the most. In particular, a 19th-century turban clad boy at an auction that I had passed on for $1,500. I still dream about him and would gladly pay 10x that now.
Are there different considerations to buying vintage online vs. in-person? How do you navigate the challenge of not seeing the piece in person?
First of all, as I said, I started in this business as an antique dealer, so I have the advantage of high-level expertise. I have attended auctions for the last 35 years, regularly. I think it’s important to read the catalog carefully and, if you have any questions, call the auction house to discuss the piece. There is usually someone who will be willing to help you with your questions. I have confidence in auctions always doing their best to describe the piece. Sometimes things need restorations and that’s what you need to look for when buying online. It also helps if the piece is a designer piece or has an antique provenance. That way you really know what you are getting and can compare pricing.
Can you talk about some unique uses for vintage pieces? (Thinking of your credenza as a bathroom vanity, but other examples are great, too!)
I’ve bought old stone horse troughs and used them for sinks in kitchens before. I’ve also used pews for seating next to an antique farm table. I think when buying antiques, it’s great to mix the old with the new. Look at something old or vintage to put next to something modern. It creates an interesting tension in a room. I like to use industrial lighting in contemporary rooms. You can use unusual tables in different ways. The size of a mid-century chest is usually smaller than a chest of drawers today, so they often make great bedside tables.
Any tips for buying vintage rugs? Are there sizes/colorways that you find yourself looking for?
I love buying antique rugs and use them in all of my projects. There are so many beautiful rugs for sale at auction, the possibilities are endless. I personally like to recommend Sultanabad rugs, as I like their large over-scale patterns. I love an older Kerman that’s very faded and washed out. They have a beautiful patina to them. I will buy flat weave rugs and use them for upholstery. I love all antique rugs and textiles. I will even throw smaller rugs on top of larger rugs. I am obsessed with pattern.
Are there any downsides to buying vintage pieces (maybe, the time? how do you combat this?)
Not to me. Some people may be annoyed at having to recover a vintage piece, but for me, it’s an opportunity to make it my own by covering a chair or sofa with my own fabric collection that I design or other vintage textiles.
What do you think about Sotheby’s Home?
Great marketplace for vintage and antiques. I was just recently on there when a friend’s estate went up, the Hyder collection. That was a magnificent estate and a great opportunity for people to see a personal collection. I love Sotheby’s, so this is just another way for people to find those special pieces.